Viewed from the touchlines, it was either a not-so-subtle attempt to destabilise one of your biggest rivals in the run-up to the final crucial few races of the F1 season, or just the sort of intelligent interest you’d expect from a team principal just doing his job.

But either way, when McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh last week signalled his intention to try and secure Red Bull's rising star to drive for the Woking team from the start of 2013, it was no surprise that his remarks caused a huge amount of interest.

I hadn’t been aware of the fact that Whitmarsh originally made F1 McLaren overtures to Vettel after Fernando Alonso decided to leave the team at the end of 2007, only to have his fingers smartly slammed in the door by the Red Bull management.

No surprises there either. But even though Whitmarsh has not stinted in his criticism of Vettel’s driving this year – most notably after Seb eliminated Jenson Button from the Belgian GP at Spa – he admitted to being basically a big fan of the young German.

“I am open and honest enough to admit it,” Whitmarsh confessed. “Sebastian is one of the great and promising talents, and we at McLaren wanted to have him. Unfortunately, we were not able to sign him at that time – but if he continues to develop so fantastically, then at the end of his contract I will try once again to get him.”

As an insider at McLaren elaborated: “The situation is more like this. We're happy with our drivers - as you'd expect – but if (and, inevitably, eventually, when) at some point in the future we once again face the challenge of hiring a new driver, then Vettel would more than likely be on the list.”

So does Jenson end up going to Ferrari to replace Massa in 2013? One thing is for sure.  Lewis won’t be making that switch. Not as long as Alonso is firmly strapped into the cockpit of one of those red cars from Maranello. As they say, that’s a given.